The topic of scenarios is included under analysis (instead of under background on preparing for a
game) since the scenarios must be intimately connected to (and derived from) a study's analysis objectives:
- If a component of the scenario will not be covered by the analysis, why include it?
- If a critical part of the analysis is not covered by the scenario, why exclude it?
Methods for Developing Scenarios
- Royal Dutch/Shell has been using scenario-based strategy development for decades.
Because of Shell's success, other commercial organizations have followed its lead. See
the website for the latest on
Shell's material, including an
Explorer's Guide that provides advice on developing your own scenarios.
- Global Business Network (GBN)
provides an aide
memoire on scenario planning based largely on the company's experience in the business world.
The company has past links to Royal Dutch/Shell and its use of scenario-based thinking in the 1970s.
Peter Schwartz, co-founder and chairman of GBN, wrote a
very popular book on how he used scenarios at Royal Dutch/Shell and subsequently.
analysis (MA). MA provides a generalized and rigorous procedure for exploring the spectrum of
possible solutions when confronted with a multi-dimensional problem space (beyond applications of
gaming). Of course, scenario development, with many variables and many settings for those variables,
consists of just such a space. Morphological analysis has been
adapted to the development of scenarios for professional war games. Applying MA in scenario design
may become tedious, but it can reduce the chances that critical combinations of factors have been
overlooked in a hasty design process.
- The Fred Friendly series of hypotheticals broadcast by
PBS are counterparts to what the military would call seminar war games. Preparation for each one starts
with research on an issue and the
development of a scenario. While
the purpose of these seminars is largely educational, a similar path is followed for developing hypothetical
situations for seminar war games.
Military and National Security Realms
- A presentation called Fight the Scenario by
Alec Barker of Group W provides an excellent review of the literature on scenario development and a summary of
relevant methods. The video was made during his talk at the Center for Applied Strategic Learning of the US
National Defense University on 26 October 2012
Handbooks for Scenario Development
- There are times when simply deliberating over a scenario may be sufficient to explore the more challenging
aspects of decisions about the future. If the decisions are substantially clarified by this, the search
for understanding may stop there. But decisions and problems that are more than trivial may demand more
effort. A subsequent stage, particularly for military decisions, is war gaming.
- The Wikipedia entry on scenario planning
provides useful checklists on the process. There is also a recipe of 18 steps provided by
Ralston and Wilson. These are oriented towards the use of scenario-based
thinking in developing business strategies. When appropriate military counterparts can be found, the recipes are
just as valuable in the military realm.
ABCA Armies' Program has an Analysis Handbook (ABCA Pub 354) that describes
the scenario development process for multinational land operations (see diagram on "Scenario Development Process"). The
scenario at the tactical level (ABCA's dominant interest) is developed to be consistent within the context of the
strategic and operational levels. The supported organization (in this example, the ABCA Executive Council) provides the
study issues, from which are derived Focus Areas which can be deconstructed in a Data Collection and Analysis Plans
(DCMP). The larger context (the operational level OpPlan), the focus areas and study issues, and the DMCPs provide the
material from which to develop a Master Scenario Events List (MSEL).
- A Data Collection and Management Plan (DCMP) is developed in a
spreadsheet format with issues decomposed into sub-issues, and further into questions. The decomposition may continue
through essential elements of analysis (EEA) and the measures of merit (MOM) that might be used to assess them.
- For seminar war games, where data collection may be largely a record of the discourse, the MOMs would not likely
be quantitative measures, more an assessment of qualitative views or of military judgement. The "Location" and "Time"
indicators in the right hand columns are to indicate where, during a scenario or in a MSEL, an opportunity would arise
to observe the issue in question. If the issue were important and there had been no opportunity to collection reactions
to it, then the MSEL would have to be adjusted accordingly. Hence, the scenario design must accommodate the analysis plan.
- The Analysis Handbook also provides a mechanism
to crosswalk from the issues that are the focus of a war game to scenario design -- from the Essential Areas of Analysis
within the Data Collection and Management Plan (DCMP) to the Master Scenario Events List (MSEL). This is the means to do a
double check that important issues for data collection will be afforded opportunities within the scenario to see how
participants deal with them. Note that it is probably risky to have an important issue without some corresponding activity
in the MSEL, although it could come up merely by chance. However there may be entries in the MSEL that have no
corresponding issues from the DCMP; specifically, there may be items in the MSEL that provide some extra realism for the
players, or that can provide some other secondary function, e.g., events to develop team cohesion or to practice a routine
that may be necessary later in the scenario.
Player Material in Advance
For anything above the most games, participants should be provided with a compilation of
background material so they can prepare accordingly. The scenario or scenarios will be a critical part of this, so
the players in particular will be familiar with the situation before they have to confront the issues within the
game. For games with strong military aspects, scenario material is usually augmented with several supporting
elements, e.g., orders from higher command, maps or charts of the geographic area, orders of battle for the
player's own forces, and perhaps of the opposition and coalition forces as well.
The Canadian Handbook provides an example template for a handbook.
The contents of this handbook include practical material on running the game, like the 'real world' daily schedule for
the gaming activity and a list of participants. For game context there is the scenario, including a map, an OpOrder,
orders of battle, and background information on the nations involved and their constituent organizations.
Some of the preparation material that should be given in advance to the participants includes:
- Player Handbook: Players should be provided with something like the Canadian handbook already mentioned.
- Background Reading: Various documents ranging from historical events that may be relevant, to concept
descriptions, to capstone documents that outline a candidate future strategy. This is optional if players
arrive familiar with the material that will be covered during the game and may be issued separately from the
- OpOrder: The Operations Order from some higher echelon will provide a context within which the game will
be conducted. It can be included in the Player Handbook or issued separately.
- Maps and ORBATs. These provide the geographic and organizational context for the game. If manoeuvre will
be a critical part of the game, maps in some detail may be required. If the game is more about issues that have
limited geographic context, very simple maps may suffice. Orders of battle (ORBATs) will be particularly
relevant if military force structure issues will be covered during the game; if a single force structure will
be used throughout (and is not really an issue for the players to test) a relatively simple ORBAT may be all
that is required. Maps and ORBATs can be included in the Player Handbook, or issued separately.
- Biographies and Backgrounders. There is typically considerable role playing in games. Fictional
biographies for the more prominent roles and backgrounders on organizations and issues can be of considerable
value in setting the scene for the participants.
- And Now the News from Our Alternate Reality: For its training exercises, JFCOM can deploy
its own news team. Similar approaches
can be adapted to games to add some additional realism.
Sample Material from the Services
- US Naval War College's colourful war gaming spectrum: Red, Crimson, Black, Purple, and Orange. NWC games
were often based on who would be the USN's likely opponent: Red = Britain, Orange = Japan, Purple = Soviet
Union. The NWC scenarios of the 1920s and 1930s saw the Japanese Empire as the most likely opponent and the
scenarios dealt with naval conflict in the Western Pacific. As it turned out, the most useful of these game
results became War
Plan Orange -- the Orange wargames predicted
everything about the Second World War in the Pacific except the kamikaze tactics (according to Admiral Nimitz).
- But the myth that the gamers immediately got it right is busted by
Michael Vlahos. Early games were filled with hubris that the Japanese would await the US fleet as it assembled
and crossed the Pacific to meet them, and that the US fleet would emerge from a Mahanian battle as the overwhelming
victor -- it would be over in a matter of weeks. By the late 1930s, the war gamers eventually converged on
War Plan Orange, a deliberate, joint, and multi-year campaign with many amphibious operations.
- The games at Newport eventually became the Global War Game in the 1990s. Recently the
advice from the Center for Naval
Analyses (CNA) to NWC on the future of the Global War Game is also valuable for how US Navy war games may
be conducted in the future.
- CNA also conducted a
review of past Navy concept development, including scenarios, with a view to providing best practices for
the Navy's next "capstone document". Their recommendations on how to write the next such document begins on
page 788. While most of the recommendations are directed
towards producing a compelling document for the Navy, the
Chief of Naval Operations' Guidance for 2011 (as in the CNA presentation) sees a role for seminar war games and
much of the CNA advice applies to how seminar war games can support the preparation of a successful capstone document.
- CNA provides
a recent study of the US Navy's future, and there has been follow-up in Proceedings.
- The US Naval War College provides
a list of recent war game reports.
- Air Force:
- US Air Force and Herman Kahn:
Kahn's "On Thermonuclear War" and
"Thinking About the Unthinkable" in many respects started the post-war use of scenario-based thinking
within the Department of Defense.
- Herman Kahn developed much of his public persona from his scenarios about the results of nuclear conflict
that could break out during the Cold War. Stanley Kubrick based the lead character in
Dr Strangelove in part on Herman Kahn.
- RAND Corporation
- Future Land Operations at the Tactical Level
- For a case study on seminar war games for future concepts at the tactical level, see the
Canadian Army of Tomorrow trilogy. Read together, this trilogy
provides a paradigm for planning, executing, and reporting on seminar war games. The material shows how
panels can be established to make assessments on topics like the reactions of local populations, relationships
with other government departments and non-governmental organizations. Assessments that are based on laws of
physics (e.g., use of hit and kill probabilities for combat results) can still be done with combat
- US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC)
- Guidance is available for developing
scenarios for combat development within the US Army. For those developing land-operations scenarios for
futures thinking, there is also TRADOC guidance
- US Central Command (CENTCOM) and Desert Crossing
- From the declassified material on
Desert Crossing, developers of seminar war games will find it especially instructive to read the e-mails
between the CENTCOM staff as scenarios were developed and participants were chosen for various roles.
- US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM)
- The Joint Operating Environment
(JOE), a periodically revised document from JFCOM , provides scenario material at the national strategic level
for the next twenty-five years. If you want more JOE, see
- Joint Chiefs of Staff
- The Chairman has provided
guidance on capstone concepts that provides general guidance on scenarios will be are consistent with the
current views of national strategy.
References on scenario design